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My favorite thing about Tucson is its designation by someone, somewhere, as the Mexican Food Capital of the World. Seriously! (Think about that for a second!)
As a family we enjoy trying different world cuisines frequently, but Lordamercy, as delicious as Chinese, French, Italian, and others may be… there is simply nothing to beat the divine flavors of a truly authentic Mexican meal. If you agree and would like to explore the infinite possibilities of Mexican food in Tucson, read on!
Taco Bell, which is only called “Mexican” by idiotic restaurant websites, is in many American towns the only pseudo Mexican fast food available. Tucson, incredibly, also suffers from the odd Taco Bell. When it’s fast and cheap Mexican you need, please consider the following substitutes, each of which blows Taco Bell and its ilk completely out of the water:
- El Guero Canelo. The “Cinnamon Blond” has a few spots in town, including its unique, semi-outdoor original restaurant on South 12th Sonoran style hot dogs are popular with the locals. I love their carne asada (grilled steak) tacos and burritos, however. They serve up the most amazing quesadillas, too, and feature a salsa bar loaded with the most mouth-watering salsas I have ever savored north of the border.
- Nico’s also has a few taco shops around town. Nothing here is going to qualify as 5-star dining, but the scrumptious treats, which nearly overflow their Styrofoam containers, are bountifully covered with tasty yellow cheese. Stop here for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and eat like a native!
- Practice your high school Spanish at La Birrieria Guadalajara. Seriously, when I was there back in the 90’s, the order taker spoke no English. Ni modo. You can say “Burrito grande, por favor,” right? The sole stand of this cheap Mexican food mecca is to be found in the central part of town on 22nd
- I have yet to try Aqui Con El Nene but I know trustworthy folks that have, and they rave about its quality, taste and great prices. Not to mention stuffed potatoes!
My kids would kill me if our first stop after flying to Tucson wasn’t Chickenuevo. It’s only a few blocks from the airport directly on the way into town. Chickenuevo’s roasted chicken is just like the kind I enjoyed when I lived in Mexico – simply sublime. The side dishes are so-so, but do try the roasted jalapeno served with your plate!
I should mention now that I utterly disdain the concept of high-end Mexican food. I’ve never found any that can beat your average hole-in-the-wall for incredible flavor. Please check listings on Yelp or Travel Advisor if you wish to find such outlets in Tucson. Having said that, I’m happy to move somewhat upscale towards splurge territory. Accordingly, I hereby offer additional Mexican food outlets that offer a bit of atmosphere in addition to yummy food:
- Elvira’s has been in action somewhere in Northern Mexico/Southern Arizona for as long as I can remember. Their food is a bit on the stuffy side but it is still incredibly delicious. They couple good food with a truly memorable ambiance. If the budget allows it, by all means GO!
- Mexican food is the staple at La Parrilla Suiza – don’t be fooled by the restaurant name’s translation of “The Swiss Grill” – this is a wonderful place to eat grub like you’d find in Mexico City. I am particularly fond of their chilaquiles, which are tortilla chips smothered in a rich red enchilada sauce and melted cheese. Their alambres de res (beef) or pollo (chicken) are also amazing. You can enjoy them together as the best combo plate on the planet – #17 on their menu.
- There are various “Molina” or “Molinito” restaurants scattered about town. Try googling the one term or the other and add “near me” when in Tucson to find your nearest iteration, which will be called Casa Molina, El Molinito, or Casita de Molina. Whichever you choose, I heartily recommend the cheese crisp, which is a large flour tortilla covered with cheese. Another local delicacy is the carne seca, which is beef that has been dried in the Tucson sun and rehydrated with spices. Order it here in a burrito, and thank me later.
- Poco and Mom’s serves up delectable New Mexico style Mexican food. Its Tanque Verde location is located in a cute southwestern-style shopping center directly on the way to either Sabino Canyon or Mount Lemmon.
- If there’s one delight Tucsonans take almost as seriously as Mexican food, it’s steak. Both are served up in blissful harmony at downtown’s highly-rated Charro Steak. I would strongly advise non-carnivores to examine the menu online ahead of time.
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